Conor Kerr

Top 40 Under 40 2016

Photography Curtis Comeau

Age: 27

Job Title: Aboriginal Liaison Specialist for Enoch, Alexander and Paul Child and Family Services

Why He’s Top 40: He’s safeguarding the future of Aboriginal kids by connecting them to their past.

Aspiration: Help to provide better education for Aboriginal youth.

Programming a series of activities for children and teens might seem like fun and games for most people. Conor Kerr, who plans such itineraries for Aboriginal youth, might agree, but there’s a serious side to his day job. Dividing his time between the city and First Nations communities in Paul (west of Edmonton), Enoch (on Edmonton’s west border) and Alexander (near Morinville), Kerr’s mission is to ensure that those children will renew links with their heritage.

“When we have to put children into foster care or group homes, they often lose that cultural connection,” says Kerr, who is Mtis. “Oftentimes those are the kids who look to find themselves and get into bad situations or wind up with the wrong people and get set up for failure. If we establish those connections with kids at an earlier age, they don’t have that sense of loss of identity as much.”

Working with elders in the communities, Kerr sets up activities like sweat lodges, family circles, teepee teaching and medicine pickings. Seeing the joyful looks on the faces of the kids getting reacquainted with their traditions brings a sense of optimism to Kerr.

“I’m really hopeful for the future, but people have to remember that this isn’t just like a one- or two-year thing,” he says. “I’m hoping that for kids and teens, they can establish their connections so that when they’re older they don’t even need to question their place in the world.”

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